Thursday, October 27, 2005

Education and the libido 

A new study from Canada has reported that university education correlates with low sex drive for women. 48% of university-educated women experienced low sex drives compared to 31% of other women. I can only say that this doesn't reflect the experiences of most of the university women I know, almost all of whom are sexually active and happily so. Maybe it's a Canadian thing.

Or maybe they just got the wrong gender. In contrast with the general male stereotype of completely insatiable sexual appetites, I know a number of men who have no love lives to speak of, happily discuss becoming hermits and all that sort of thing. But perhaps I just attract dysfunctional men, since a scary number of them also have a history of turning the girlfriends they've had gay (or boyfriends straight).


[Via Kieran Healy] This LibraryThing that's going round is great, and helped pass the insomniac time last night very nicely. The main use I reckon I'll put my catalogue to at the moment is as something to access from a public library or internet phone box when I'm tempted to buy anything new, since at the moment I keep buying books I already own, on the assumption that it's better to own them twice than not at all. But it would be even more useful as a tool to sort books out between university and home, and hopefully in the future between two countries. Good stuff.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

The Tears - London - October 25th 

Straining finances in order to see two gigs in one week, I went down to the Hammersmith Palais with a Clash song in my head on Tuesday. And it was very much worth it.

I've seen The Tears play eight times in 10 and a half months, and insane as that sounds, it's nothing compared to some of the fans I've met at those gigs. The band is one of those that built up a real groupie culture over time, maintaining the same winning combination of beautiful, Bowie-like singer and musical guitar genius that made Suede so good ten years ago and has kept so many people hanging on ever since. But a lot of us go to all those gigs for more personal reasons, and for me it's been my way to escape during the worst points of this awful year. These are the songs that saved your life, as Morrisey would say. The beautiful music from the stage, the noise down at the barrier, the hours waiting in line with all the other crazy drunken fuck-ups - it all goes into the experience and makes these trips more than just more gigs.

This show was particularly good, and the band obviously put a lot into what will be their last show in England for many months. It all had something of a reunion feel to it, with one song dedicated to all the fans who'd been following them around for the past year. The performances were all tight and energetic, with Brett on absolutely top form throughout, jumping into the pit with the audience at a few points, and getting a good number singing along for the first time since they began touring last December. Bernard Butler was quiet and angry, but equally storming on his guitar, with some of the best solos on the album songs that I've heard yet. He took to kicking things at every given opportunity, showering the drummer Mako with water, and nearly hitting the bouncer next to me with his flying mike stand. But, true to his sweet personality underneath, he then came over and apologised. As for the music, b-sides and new songs were mixed in with the standard stuff, shaking the set up quite a bit, and boding well for any new album that might come along.

The band's so beset with bad luck - mainly due to the shittest record company in the world, Independiente - that that second album might never come, but Europe After The Rain and "Berlin" had all the classic appeal of any of their very best songs from the Suede era. No one's really been able to say that The Tears' music is "better than Dog Man Star" yet, but these new songs, together with the way they perform the older ones now, suggest they could easily have that title soon. Really beautiful stuff, and I'll miss seeing them, as I doubt I'll get to any more gigs now even if they do release another album.

Damien Jurado - Leicester - October 24th 

I went to see Damien Jurado at The Charlotte in Leicester on Monday, getting soaked through on my way down there, so that I was pretty pissed off with the world by the time the gig began. But this is actually a pretty good way to be when you're listening to twisted folk music. Tales of drowning lovers and insane brothers then just mix in with your mood.

Because Jurado's not much known in England we got the dubious treat of three support acts, but these all went by quite speedily. Pacific Ocean Fire were first on and obviously a local band, with cheering supporters all present and correct. Their sound is fairly standard alt.country - Whiskeytown, Uncle Tupelo and all that crowd being natural influences, though they could probably name any of dozens of others. It was competent, enjoyable, and I found a couple of the songs really impressive. They don't have their own style yet, but that'll probably come with time as they were all fairly young. But why must English singers put on American accents?

Loose Salute were up next, and absolutely godawful. I've since seen lots of positive reviews for this group online, but I can only say the reviewers must have been paid. It was middle of the road pub rock, tinged with Americana, and fronted by the demon seed of Gwen Stefani and some hillbilly trailer trash. The band were fine enough actually, and the music decent if dull, but the woman singer was really, really embarrassing. Every once in a while during she'd started awkwardly swinging her hips in a 'provocative' style, and I swear there could be no more effective cure for homosexuality. I still feel scarred by the memory of it.

Dolorean were therefore welcome relief, and very good. The singer was suffering from long tour syndrome, with a bad cold and sore throat, and he apologised for his voice in advance. But this just meant that he sounded like Ryan Adams on a good night - nothing much obviously wrong. The music was folky and dark - quite close to Jurado's own style - and the band were very tight. Lyrics touched on wrongdoing, dead loves, eternal hellfire and the like, and continued to confirm my feeling that deceptively quiet folk music is where the twisted heart of country came to die. "Hannibal, MO", a number about a failed joint suicide and the family that wants to chase the narrator down, finished the set in a nicely dark and thrashy way. I bought one of their albums after the gig, "Not Exotic", and I'd recommend it to anyone who can get a hold of it, and who likes that sort of thing.

The band then returned, minus singer, to form Damien Jurado's backing group. He came across as very shy between songs, and kept thanking the audience for making the journey out, as if he couldn't believe anyone would want to see him. Though he doesn't have the greatest stage presence, he's still a very good performer, and just hearing his music live was enough for me, as I've been half in love with his albums for about four or five years now. From my biased point of view he could therefore do little wrong, and he did a fine set, with a good mix of new songs and old classics (mostly from the beautiful Rehearsals For Departure album), solo guitar and full band. His voice was occasionally lost in the louder numbers, like "Great Today", but since grunge folk is mainly mood music anyway, that didn't matter too much.

Overall it was a great show, and I'd recommend seeing either Jurado or Dolorean (I think they occasionally call themselves Dolo-rado in combination) to anyone who gets the chance, even if they have to stand around for hours in the rain beforehand.

Sunday, October 23, 2005

Archive Films 

[Via Andy] I'd always treated Archive.org as just a useful tool for finding old websites, but now I've discovered its excellent collection of '50s US "Social Guidance" propaganda films. Each one is about ten minutes long, and they're mostly of great comedy value.

Are you popular? is one of the best, with great writing. What makes Caroline popular? "Is it because she likes girls and boys equally?" Yes, bisexuality is the key to true popularity. Parking in cars with boys is life's big no no, and you should never talk more than five minutes on the phone. But a popular girl should bake food for her boyfriend. Perhaps then "they'll bring another couple home with them... that would be fun!"

Office Courtesy and Office Etiquette are two great films, both about how to tame your personality and become a submissive secretary. Office Courtesy is particularly fun for the nightmare scenario, where the bad secretary discovers that the woman being so terribly rude in her dream is in fact herself. Office Etiquette is more amusing if you run your own lesbian sub training school narrative through it. Or so I found...

Another one that's fun to keep a juvenile background commentary running on is The Outsider. "Susan, Susan Jane... What makes you so different?" At points in the film I was crying out things like "she's green!", "she's only got one leg!", "she's a drag queen!" etc.

Good stuff.


On this day thirty years ago, Air Force Technical Sergeant Leonard Matlovich, a decorated veteran of the Vietnam War, was given a general discharge after publicly declaring his homosexuality. When he died nine years later, aged 44, he was buried at the Congressional Cemetery in Washington, D.C. His tombstone reads: "A gay Vietnam Veteran... they gave me a medal for killing two men & a discharge for loving one."

Friday, October 21, 2005

Morris and Magdalen 

Chris Bertram's unearthing of a bit of William Morris' political stuff on equality reminded me of this piece, which I read a few months back, about the destruction of Magdalen Bridge in Oxford:

It may well be thought that the mere words, `the destruction of Magdalen Bridge' would go at once to the heart of any one who knows Oxford well; that any one who has lived there either as gownsman or townsman... would be eager to protest against such a strange piece of barbarism...

Amusingly, he goes on to say that the committee he's representing think that "no serious inconvenience to the public is caused by the present structure, the traffic across Magdalen Bridge being usually but small".

Anyone know whether they did knock down the old bridge? I can't find much about it online, at least not from a very brief search. What's there at the moment certainly isn't unusually attractive...

Google 2084 

(by Randy Siegel)

Babbling Day 

October 21st is a good day to murmur unintelligibly. I can't actually find any reason online for why it's Babbling Day today. But I did discover the word "blatherskite" - a babbling, foolish person. And, as a typically rude Brummie, I shall be using it to insult people as much as possible.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Equality Exchange 

[Via Robert] Equality Exchange seems to be a good place to go for anyone interested in egalitarianism debates in political theory. It lists pretty much every article in this area which has been published semi-recently, as well as holding its own copies of some unpublished stuff. Frightening to see just how many articles there are, and just how few of them seem to have escaped the pro/anti-Rawls straitjacket. But good nevertheless.

Monday, October 17, 2005

Beccaria and Criminal Insanity 

I took Beccaria's book On Crimes and Punishments on holiday with me last week, and while reading it came across the section "Asylums", which I expected to deal with criminal insanity. But it only looks at places of asylum, such as churches, arguing that there should be nowhere outside the law, or running under its own laws (a Hobbesian thought) within a state. No mention of madness here, nor indeed is there any at any other point in the book, which is strange, since madness would be an interesting problem in a discussion of punishment even that far back, and as I'll discuss here, it's a particular problem with regard to the penal reforms Beccaria wished to introduce.

Beccaria argued that punishment should be "public, speedy, necessary, the minimum possible in the given circumstances, proportionate to the crime, and determined by the law". The very existence of insane asylums runs counter to all these principles. The "punishment" is not public, because those declared criminally insane are denied public trials, and placed behind locked doors without the public being made aware of it. It is not speedy, because it often takes a long time to prove insanity, removing the (Humean) connection between act and consequence that Beccaria wants to use to deter others. It is not necessary, as Althusser argues quite rightly in his autobiography, since acute episodes (such as the one in which he killed his wife) tend not to last very long, and are generally curable. Yet institutionalisation after a criminal act is often permanent, or at least very long lasting, going beyond what's necessary to punish a person, and thus also beyond "the minimum possible in the given circumstances", and the proportionate.

And punishment in the form of institutionalisation is not determined by the law, which is what's really important. Those placed in mental institutions, whether as a result of crimes or not, are being kept in confinement by private individuals rather than by the law, and are under the constant rule of those individuals in place of the rule of law. For Beccaria, such places should not exist, for exactly the same reasons that political asylums should not exist.

Now the argument here could go either way. A humane person like Beccaria might argue that this sort of confinement cannot be justified, and that the person declared not to have committed a crime by reason of insanity, should be allowed to go free (perhaps once treated). But much more persuasive on Beccarian principles is the argument that because asylums are outside the law, the person judged insane should be judged by the laws in the same way as any other criminal. Moreover, since the crime exists regardless of the state of mind of its perpetrator, not to punish it like any other crime is to remove the deterrent to others, in whose minds the possibility of an insanity plea is planted (this is a crap argument, actually, since in reality the insanity plea is only used in something like 1% of all criminal cases, 60-70% of which aren't murder cases, and in which it's only successful a quarter of the time - but nevertheless, it's a theoretically powerful argument). All the other points about speed, proportionately and publicity etc. equally suggest that the act should be treated in the same way as it would be were the perpetrator in full health.

Perhaps this is the reason why Beccaria didn't mention insanity. The same humane instincts which drive him to set forth his principles, in order to protect people from unjust punishment, seem to be the ones which most justify punishing those whose state seems to suggest that they cannot deserve it. If this is right, then Beccaria may well have recognised just how important madness is in any discussion of punishment, and in his realisation he may also have become aware that any discussion of it in his book could undermine his whole purpose in putting forth a humane philosophy of punishment. For it is in this discussion that those who would be reactionary can find new paths for their tyranny, removing it from the realm of intentions to the realm of acts.

This is the problem of any act-based morality. Beccaria is as concerned as Locke, Bayle and Rousseau before him to save people free from tyranny over their thoughts. For example, he argues with regard to suicide that "punishing it beforehand is to punish men's will and not their actions, which would be to control the intentions, a part of a man utterly free from the reign of human laws" (84). But in doing this, he has at the same time subjected us to the possibility of a tyranny over our actions. Those who perform no wrong action are saved, but those whose thoughts would mitigate the consequences of their actions are to the same extent condemned. And of course this problem is one which faces act-utilitarians (the only kind worth the name) right down to the present day.

Thursday, October 06, 2005

Blogging Break 

I'm off down to sunny Devon for a week, so there'll be a break in posting here until next Friday. But I will be back, and I'll try to keep up the recent semi-regular posting when I return. In the meantime, take a look at the sites on my blogroll for a variety of views on politics, film, music, queerness and many other things.

See you soon.

Friendly Warning 

Cinema-goers, avoid arriving early to films this month! Why? Because if you don't, you'll be treated to six minutes of screaming and wailing, accompanied by a piss-poor Romeo & Juliet take-off, courtesy of H&M's &denim collection. If it wasn't for the music, actually, I'd say it was a must-see advert, just because it is so awful, but the singing tips it over the edge into the "completely unbearable" category.

The first time we saw this Lorna and I sat in the cinema laughing our heads off, because we thought that an advert this long and melodramatic had to be intentionally funny. But no one else was laughing. And H&M's website tells us:

“There's enough comedy in advertising today. And jeans are not about laughs, jeans are love and soul and tears. That's what we're trying to emphasize with this tragic and beautiful Romeo & Juliet story.” The film was filmed by H&M Red Room and renowned director/photographer David LaChapelle. It will run in cinemas worldwide, but the company refuses to reveal the ending but did say: “Every pair of &denim jeans is the start of another true denim love story.”

Hmm. You can just tell that somewhere in H&M's marketing department there's a highly sarcastic individual who's almost ready to cry because no one else realised they were joking before the company put this to print...

Monday, October 03, 2005


[Via Richard] Next Sunday is National PornSunday in the States, and it's an event that's spreading internationally to England and several other countries. But rather than being a celebration of pornography - as the name would suggest - it's an event organised by the churches, trying to wean people off porn, with PG-13 rated services talking about its temptations and the problems of addiction.

But why not make it an international day of porn discussion from every point of view? One of my more interesting nights at university was spent with about 5-10 other women, sitting in a small room in St John's College, Oxford, watching two porn films, drinking wine and attempting to discuss what we were watching intelligently (without laughing). We were talking specifically about what line feminists should take towards porn, looking at how porn films portray women and how they treat their actresses. But the conversation often wandered off-topic onto more detailed aspects of the films we were watching, and there are many other discussions to be had about these forms of entertainment.

The world would definitely be a bit more fun if we had designated days where everyone sat down and watched porn together without feeling guilty about it. People in England especially would gain from taking a more mature approach to sex by tackling it head-on. And hell, why make it more mature? After all, pornography films are certainly a more reliable source of comedy than any Carry On flick.

Sunday, October 02, 2005

Post Secret 

[Via Clover] Though there's been an article about it in The Observer, I'd never heard about this site before. It's a project that was started by Frank Warren in 2004, when he distributed postcards in his local area which read:

"You are invited to anonymously contribute a secret to a group art project. Your secret can be a regret, fear, betrayal, desire, confession or childhood humiliation. Be brief. Be legible. Be creative."

The response was much more enthusiastic and sustained than he'd expected, and some of the postcards he receives each week are displayed on the website. Mostly it's a very sad experience reading this sort of thing, but a couple were quite funny too, like this one (also a link to the site):

Go take a look. It's updated every week, and there's a book coming out soon too.

Saturday, October 01, 2005

Bill For First Lady! 

A bunch of Democrats have kicked off their campaign to get Hillary Clinton to stand for President in 2008. Taking a new line, though, and pre-empting Republicans who'd joke about Bill as First Lady, they've decided to do it themselves.

They've created their own First Lady Bill talking doll, which kicks Republican ass, while saying things like: "Round the White House Hillary wore the pants. Now I'm wearing the dress!" and "My bikini line - waxed or shaved? Don't ask, don't tell!".

They've also made a couple of videos: "Men's Room?" and "Boxers, Briefs or Thongs?"

Yes, they're white trash 

It looks like the New York Times has just discovered the Chav. [Via Brad, whose comments section is amusingly full of other Americans still trying to work out exactly what they are].

Relatedly, I just discovered Chav Scum's letters section. Here's a fun one:

From: Christina "mcgarryclan"
ave ya nt gt nefin else 2 do dan insult peeps eh? ow wud u lyk it if peeps made a web site bot u? n y u labelin us? we aint a can of beans or nufin. u need 2 gt ur issues srtd owt b4 u insult us ppl. yeh?

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